The 10th National Assembly (NASS) will be inaugurated this month. In electing the officials of the NASS, there is need to carry every section of the country along in line with the federal character principle expressly enshrined in the Constitution.
Though democracy is a game of numbers, it also presupposes inclusiveness.
Any country where a section of the populace feels that it is being excluded from the scheme of things, justice demands that the situation should be quickly addressed and resolved.
When the political parties were selecting their presidential candidates, the issue of equity and fairness was raised. Since former President Muhammadu Buhari, who was completing eight years in office then, is from the North, Nigerians expected that his successor should come from the South. The All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP) chose southern presidential candidates, while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) picked a northerner. Now the country has Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, from South West, as president, with Alhaji Kashim Shettima, from North East, as Vice president.
With this setting, we strongly feel that for equity, fairness, and justice, the South-East deserves the Senate Presidency position in the 10th Senate, as has been canvassed by many Nigerians, including Vanguard newspapers, which, on June 30, 2023 emphasised it. We are not oblivious of the fact that a number of candidates from other zones are contesting for the same position, but we must remember that since independence in 1960, the South-East has been on the periphery of power in Nigeria.
Take the Presidency, for instance. In the first republic, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the ceremonial President. The real powers resided in the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a northerner. In 1966, there was a coup that brought in Gen. Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi. The reign of Aguiyi-Ironsi as military Head of State ended disastrously six months later as he was killed in a counter coup in 1966. In the second and third republics, the story was the same.
In the fourth republic, from 1999, things appear to have worsened. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the South-West became the President of Nigeria in 1999. His ascension to power was to assuage the South-West which was embittered by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election presumably won by its son, Chief MKO Abiola. South-Easterners like Dr. Alex Ekwueme had to suspend their ambition in PDP, while former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who earlier emerged the presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party (APP) surrendered it for Chief Olu Falae (South West) to be picked as consensus joint candidate of APP/Action for Democracy (AD), just to allow the South-West candidate to sail through to the Presidency. After the eight-year rule of Obasanjo, a northerner, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took over the mantle of leadership. He died three years after. His deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (South-South) succeeded him. A northerner, Muhammadu Buhari, succeeded Jonathan in 2015 and has just handed over to another South-Westerner, Tinubu.
During Buhari’s eight-year rule, security and other major appointments eluded the South-East zone. No South-Easterner was found worthy to be appointed a service chief, Minister of Defence or even National Security Adviser. None of them was also found worthy to be Inspector-General of Police, Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Controller-General of Customs, Comptroller-General of the Immigration, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Commandant-General of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). The South-East was not also found worthy to present Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker of the House.
Originally, Nigeria used to stand on a tripod: Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. Now, one leg of the tripod, the Igbo, appears to be broken. The 2023 presidency position should have been ceded to the South-East for fairness and equity. But, the APC and the PDP – in their wisdom, presented candidates from outside the South-East. This obtains in spite the fact that the majority of the South-East people believe in one Nigeria. They have their businesses and investments all over Nigeria. They have also paid their dues in the two dominant parties. The APC, for instance, rules in two of the five states in the South-East – Ebonyi and Imo states. PDP rules in one, while Labour Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) rule in one state each.
In APC, which is the ruling party, the South East has shown support. The party has two governors – Hope Uzodimma (Imo) and Francis Nwifuru (Ebonyi). There are six senators of APC from the South-East. With these, the expectation is that one of the elected senators should be considered in the 10th Senate leadership, since APC has the majority. The ranking senators who should be considered for the post are capable and ready to lead the Senate, for good result.
We say strongly that since the APC denied the South-East the presidential ticket, the party should consider compensating the zone with the Senate Presidency position. This will be in line with the Federal Character principle as enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. It will also be part of the processes to heal the wounds of the 30-month Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 as well as address the marginalisation of the zone, which has escalated in the current democracy. This is moreso since the Tinubu administration has chosen a Chief of Staff to the President from the South-West and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) from North-Central. Also, none of the service chiefs and the Inspector-General of the Police is from the South East.
Democracy is strengthened when every section of a federation is carried along in the scheme of things. South-East deserves more than it has got from the Nigerian federation. It needs to have a sense of belonging. The voice of the people of the zone should be heard and reckoned with.
Senators should know that everything is in their hands. They should be careful in choosing who leads them at this point in time. Nigeria is sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines. We should not add to that division by our acts of omission or commission. The country deserves peace and unity. It desperately needs growth and progress. Only equity, fairness, political inclusion and justice will make that possible. Justice and fairness will be served if South East produces next Senate President.